In 1952, the Sonotone 1010 hearing aid hit the market. Priced at $229.50, the device stood out as exceptional. It was the first consumer product to rely on a transistor, which Bell Labs had invented a few years earlier. The transistor proved such a leap forward in miniaturizing hearing aids and modulating sound that 97 percent of hearing aids were based on transistors by 1954.
In subsequent decades, hearing aids have made dramatic leaps forward in performance, but they certainly have not enjoyed the same price/performance curves of the most famous transistor-based invention—the computer chip. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that 1952 hearing aid would cost about $2,000. The average retail price for a hearing aid today, though, runs from $3,000 to $6,000. If you know anyone who has bought one recently, you’ve probably heard them gripe about how expensive the devices—which insurers in the U.S. do not typically cover—cost.